Just two years apart in age, Ellen Eskeline Walsted and Jens Jacob Walsted were the youngest of eight children born in Denmark to Christian Jens Jacobsen Walsted and his wife Johanne Marie Larsdatter.1 Ellen and James, as he was known for most of his life, were the last of their surviving siblings to immigrate to America, with Ellen arriving in New York aboard the aptly-named New York in 1900 and James arriving in Boston aboard the Saxonia in 1902.2
The siblings soon reconnected in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, and were by all accounts close; James witnessed his sister’s wedding to fellow Dane Hans John Hansen in 1904, and later joined the Hansens on their move to New Hampton, Chickasaw County, Iowa.3 Eventually, Ellen and Hans moved on to Oklahoma, while James returned to Sioux City and married there to Kathrine Christensen, also a native of Denmark.4
Although numerous photographs survive of Ellen, who was once noted to be “a lady of fine appearance” in a local newspaper, until this photograph was uncovered, only two snapshots, both taken in his later years, were known to exist of James.5
In this photograph, dated circa 1907-08, James and Ellen may both have been in their late twenties; Ellen would celebrate her thirtieth birthday in 1908, while James would turn thirty in 1910.6 Pictured, from left, are a young man in a bowler hat with a pipe between his teeth, believed to be James Walsted; a girl in a knee-length dress, believed to be Juanita Hansen, stepdaughter of Ellen; an unidentified boy perched atop a cellar door, perhaps a nephew of Ellen and James; a small boy standing before a horse, identified as Clifton Hansen, son of Ellen; and on horseback, an elegant young woman identified as Ellen (Walsted) Hansen.7
Ellen sits with poise on horseback, a hat with a broad upturned brim atop her head. While not a small hat, it is of a more modest size than those of the Merry Widow style which exploded in popularity after one was worn by actress Lily Elsie in 1907’s The Merry Widow.8 Ellen’s bodice appears to be pigeon-breasted, her skirt reaching her natural waist, and long riding gloves cover her hands and forearms.9 Horseback riding may have been a skill that she acquired in America, rather than during her upbringing in Denmark, where her father alternately worked as a baker and shoemaker.10
The provenance of the original photograph is currently unknown, and until it is recovered and the reverse checked for any possible inscriptions, questions about it remain. Where were James and Ellen when this photograph was taken? The group poses casually outside of a house with wood siding and a stone foundation; a cellar door and the corner of a porch are also visible. Two narrow windows, one open, offer a glimpse of fluttery ruffled curtains. It is possible James might have visited Ellen in Oklahoma, where she spent several years; alternately, it might have been taken at the Iowa homes of their sisters Jensine (Walsted) Winther or Anna (Walsted) Johnsen, both of whom had young sons who could be candidates for the little fellow seated on the cellar door.11 Regardless of the location, however, this informal outdoor photograph gives more insight into the personalities of these immigrant siblings than most studio portrait ever could.
Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.